VICTORIAN teacher and AusAID worker, Russell Owen Lorback, escaped the clutches of PNG law enforcement officers by a couple of days.
PNG police wanted to interview Lorback regarding naked images of PNG girls in compromising poses, which police believe might have been involved in pornographic productions. They further wanted to question him with regards to the ages of the girls in the photographs.
If comments attributed to him by The Australian newspaper are correct, Lorback escaped deliberately because he had checked with his mates and they told him to “disappear” because he might not get a fair hearing in a PNG court.
That pretty much sounds like a line out of the now illegal Enhanced Cooperation Programme agreement between Australia and PNG and since he worked for AusAID, this might be the “company line”.
A police raid at Lorback’s place found a computer disc allegedly containing the compromising images of young Papua New Guinean girls.
Lorback admitted to The Australian that he had taken pictures of his girlfriends and that they “might have been 17 or 18”.
“I actually do not know what the legal age is in Papua New Guinea,” he is quoted as having told The Australian.
So if he does not know, they might as well have been 14 or 15.
His ignorance of the law is not an excuse under the laws of both Australia and PNG, and offered flippantly and in the cavalier attitude he appears to have done, it is an insult and demeaning to AusAID which offered him employment.
The question arises: How well was the person interviewed and how well was he briefed by the employing agency, particularly when such a person is to be placed in a position of trust with children in schools?
Surely, the legal age ought to have been made known to the person if he did not know already. Any school teacher, Australian or Papua New Guinean, would know that it is “off limits” to have a relationship of a sexual nature with one’s own student, including befriending a student in such a fashion.
The PNG Criminal Code specifically defines a school teacher as being in a “relationship of trust” to a child in school.
While section 229E (Abuse of Trust, Authority or Dependency) relates to a person who engages in an act of sexual penetration or touching of a girl between the ages of 16 and 18 who has an existing relationship of trust, authority of dependency, it could equally apply to matters like taking of pornographic pictures, which is an offence.
His own admittance (if the newspaper quotation is correct) that the girls “might have been 17 or 18” and that a number of them were his students, leaves him, we would venture, with a case to answer. The law is quite empathic that it is not a defence that the girls “consented” to an offence of sexual intercourse (or of pornographic images being taken).
In the specific case of using a child under the age of consent of 16 years for production of pornography, the penalty for a person found guilty of this offence is imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years.
Distributions of pornographic images carry a penalty of 10 years and possession of child pornography could land the perpetrator in jail for up to five years.
Lorback says he took pictures of only his girlfriends but admits that some were his students. It appears he took pictures of or kept pictures of 12 different girls, all of whom PNG police have taken statements from.
Lorback is safely ensconced in a haven in north Queensland and allegedly out of the reach of both PNG and Australian federal police (AFP).
For PNG police, we can well understand, he might well be out of reach but it appears to be a very poor excuse indeed for the AFP to indicate that since the PNG police are investigating, they would not intervene. That seems to suggest to us that PNG police can go to Queensland to continue with their enquiries there, where it has no jurisdiction.
The AFP took a particular interest, we remember, in the case of the Australian pilot over his alleged sexual escapade in PNG and put the poor blighter away in jail – wrongfully it turned out. The pilot is suing the AFP.
Australian police also took a special interest in the 14-year-old case of one Julian Moti, so why not this particular case?
We understand there are in place understandings between the police of both countries to cooperate on cross border inquiries of this sort.
There has to be an explanation of some sort.